The Penguins’ Kris Letang could face league discipline after hammering the Capitals’ Marcus Johansson in Game 3.
Is Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang a lightning rod for dangerous plays or what?
Whether he’s giving or receiving, he can’t seem to dodge controversy. Letang avoided a suspension for this slash in the first round of the playoffs on the New York Rangers’ Viktor Stalberg, as the NHL Department of Player Safety felt the stanchion launched Letang’s stick into Stalberg’s face.
Letang might have a tougher time escaping the law after what happened in Game 3 of his Penguins’ Metropolitan Division final matchup against the Washington Capitals Monday. A look at his powerful hit on Caps left winger Marcus Johansson:
The blow knocked Johansson out of the game temporarily and earned Letang a two-minute minor penalty for interference. Was it worthy of a suspension? We have many factors to sort through on this one.
1. Was the hit late? The exact timing matters. The DOPS has guidelines for what constitutes a late hit. The threshold is between 0.5 and 0.6 seconds. A late hit qualifies as interference, rule 56.1. Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Letang’s hit was 0.63 seconds late.
2. Was the head the principal point of contact? Note the use of the word principal and not the word first. Principal contact is what matters. Johansson’s head snaps back quite dramatically, but is it the result of contact to his chest first? It’s awfully tough to tell. If the head is ruled the principal point of contact, that’s an illegal check to the head, rule 48.1.
3. Did Letang launch himself? Predatory play matters. Letang’s feet pop up in the air, which suggests charging, rule 42, but the DOPS pays attention to whether the impact causes the feet to launch afterward involuntarily. Regardless, it at least looks like Letang takes an upward diagonal route toward Johansson and launches himself. That’s not good.
4. The two-minute minor means nothing. Suspensions and penalties have nothing to do with the other. Just a reminder.
5. Johansson returned for the start of the second period. That doesn’t help Letang escape discipline. Injuries only impact suspension length, not the decision to suspend in the first place.
6. Letang’s last suspension was in 2011, so he’s not classified as a repeat offender, per collective bargaining agreement rules.
The worst-case scenario for Letang and the Penguins if if he’s deemed to have committed interference and an illegal check to the head and charging. What stands out most is the launch of the body. The guess here is Letang is banned for one game. It will be a shorter sentence than what Brooks Orpik got for Game 2 because Orpik’s victim, Olli Maatta, was knocked out of that game and the next.
UPDATE: The NHL Department of Player Safety has suspended Letang one game for interference on Johansson, and Letang will be ineligible to suit up for Game 4 of the series.
In the suspension video, Patrick Burke, director of the Department of Player Safety, notes that hits on players who do not have the puck are allowed within a certain window of time providing the check has been initiated before the puck is moved by the player being checked. Letang’s hit on Johansson is “not such a case.”
“Letang initiates this hit after Johansson releases the puck,” Burke said. “And contact is made outside the allowable window during which a player may finish a check.”
Burke also notes that while there is “significant head contact,” the head was not the main point of contact. The contact with the head paired with the lateness of the hit do, however, make the hit worthy of a suspension.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin